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In personal injury cases, a defendant is normally considered to have been negligent if they failed to do something that a reasonable person would have done, or did something that a reasonably prudent person would not have done. In medical negligence cases, the question depends on what a reasonable person with the specialist skills of the doctor in question would or would not have done.
The term 'negligence' is often misinterpreted as meaning 'gross negligence' when in fact it can embrace inadvertent errors of judgment on the part of otherwise careful people.
In a recent case, a highly competent surgeon's one-off error when fitting a 67-year-old woman with a hip replacement resulted in a compensation payout.
The woman suffered from arthritis and underwent surgery for a total replacement of her left hip at an NHS hospital. Part of the ceramic prosthesis came loose whilst she was recovering from the operation and the joint dislocated. She required further, disabling surgery to replace the prosthesis.
The High Court found that the experienced surgeon had failed to fix part of the prosthesis in place properly. That did not mean that he was incompetent. However, on this one occasion, the technique he had used fell short of an acceptable standard and was negligent.
A compensation settlement of £37,500 was approved by the Court.